Nurses are to be redeployed to private nursing homes in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Almost half of the COVID-19 related deaths recorded around the country so far have been in nursing homes.
Meanwhile, there are now clusters of cases in over a third of the homes around the country.
A cluster is defined as three or more confirmed cases in one location within a 72-hour period. There are at least 151 in homes around the country.
Nursing homes crisis
Tony Fitzpatrick, Director of industrial Relations for the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, said the HSE told unions that the clusters in nursing homes are now the country’s “biggest crisis” in terms of COVID-19.
“The health sector unions have agreed with the HSE through a voluntary process that public health nurses can be redeployed to public nursing homes, to allow the staff in public nursing homes to go in an assist in private nursing homes,” he said.
“So, it is historic.”
He said the clear aim of all healthcare workers is “to ensure that patients are looked after.”
“It is clear that there is a crisis in the private nursing home sector that needs to be addressed and at this time, those patients in that sector need our assistance,” he said.
“Our members and the members of the health sector unions will step forward in order to help these older persons at this particular time.”
He said there is currently pressure on all sectors in the health service and, as part of the agreement, staff can only be re-deployed where it does not adversely affect the public health service.
On Newstalk Breakfast, Mervin Taylor from Sage Advocacy said extra staff and better testing are badly needed in the sector.
“There are people out there who are really doing their very best,” he said.
“They need more nursing staff, they need medical support and they need rapid testing – because there is a huge problem, both in the public and the private system of nursing homes, of staff being out and not knowing whether they have to isolate as they are not sure whether they have it or not.”
SIPTU Health Division Organiser Paul Bell said the redeployment of health workers will take place “strictly on a voluntary basis.”
“Volunteers will come from across the nursing, health care assistant, cleaning, chef and catering assistant disciplines,” he said.
“Our members will remain completely under the management of the HSE and will be assigned for agreed periods of time.
“They will also be provided with an adequate supply of PPE for their tasks.”
He said the agreement will remain in place until the crisis in Ireland’s nursing homes has abated.